Crafting a prequel to one of the most iconic horror films of all time is a bold move. It didn’t work for The Exorcist Films (either time), Rob Zombie’s Halloween suffered from oversharing, and The Thing couldn’t top Carpenter’s original. Besides, TTCM already has a remake, and a prequel to that remake, so going further back feels desperate in its attempts to find fresh fertile ground for the right expansion of the story. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury are a talented duo but since their hag-horror home invasion debut, Inside, the French directing duo have felt somewhat aimless; meandering from project to project without the focus their taught debut had.
Livid was a nice follow-up to Inside, bringing down the pace and going for Gothic supernatural in the vein of Del Toro. Among the Living felt like a reimagining of Hooper’s The Funhouse, whilst invoking the monstrous family elements of Texas Chainsaw. Whatever it was aiming for, it fumbled with all the stuff between the great grizzle and decent home invasion. Leatherface isn’t a worthy Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel, but it is their best offering since Livid.
Whilst the film as a whole doesn’t land the the development of Leatherface, it does offer a decent series of set pieces tied together by some decent lead performances. Dorff and Taylor live up to their cult status through scene-stealing turns as a child hating Sheriff and monstrous mother respectively. The film itself is never more intriguing than when the two clash but it simply doesn’t happen enough.
Which is a shame when there’s a strong group of young actors leading the way, they just don’t get enough interesting stuff to do. Taking cues One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Leatherface’s key goal seems to be exploring just how the iconic serial killer became the stuff of nightmares, with a sympathetic angle. However, the film’s big twist falls on deaf ears by seeming surplus and actually working against the character development. No spoilers, but it’s fairly pointless and purely a surprise for surprise’s sake.
On the gore front, Maury and Bustillo do not disappoint. Their brand has, from day one, been a nasty sticky blood-soaked affair and probably one of the main reasons they were entrusted with such a staple piece of US horror history. The kills are suitably grizzly and merciless, easily matching up to the relentless nastiness of Jonathan Liebesman’s TTCM: The Beggining but never capturing the unique nihilism of Hooper’s original. The problem is that Leatherface feels dispensable and has a near-schlocky approach to its grizzle. In one scene Vanessa Grasse’s put-upon nurse falls and accidentally locks lips with a foetid corpse, but it feels played for laughs and shock as opposed to horror. It’s a moment which encapsulates much of the film: daft schlock built for horror festival audiences undermines the film’s tone.
At its best Maury and Bustillo deliver big set-pieces (like the gleeful mass asylum breakout) full of nasty gags and great production value. At its worst, Leatherface sabotages it’s own tone with those schlocky moments which feel a mile away from Hooper’s original and the expected trajectory of the film itself. All in all, Leatherface plods along at a variable pace, mostly reliant on the hot-headed tension of Dorff and Lili Taylor. It’s gratuitous enough to keep gore hounds happy but lacks the depth to have any staying power, not to mention its links to the franchise are tenuous at best.
Dir. Julien Maury, Alexander Bustillo
Stars. Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Sam Strike, Vanessa Grasse, Sam Coleman, Christopher Adamson